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11 tips for conquering life with kids when being pulled in a dozen directions

I recognized them at the Kindergarten Family Dinner. Every September produces a new crop of the species—the parents whose eldest is starting kindergarten. They're the ones trying to get a five-year-old to eat the PTO's pizza offerings while chasing a toddler or swaying a baby in a carrier. Or both. They're frantic, confused, and maybe even a bit ashamed that they don't know what exactly they're doing. A mom I knew from preschool flashed me a panicked look as I approached. “How do people do this?" she spluttered without preamble.

By “this" I knew exactly what she meant: two adults, two jobs, two kids, two schools that close often and at random, rarely-overlapping intervals. Career advancement (or just not getting canned), soccer, family dinner, dentist appointments, the PTO, hypoallergenic birthday treats, playdates, after-school care. The freakin' Science Fair.

I had no magic bullet to offer. “Nobody knows what they're doing. Nothing makes sense and it's all a mess. Everybody's patching it together however they can." The look on her face as she received this information was equal parts frustration and relief.

It's true. And I think people need to hear it, to know they're not alone in this choppy surf. However, since this is my second ride on this merry-go-round, I do have some ideas about where to look for help.

1. Know what you're doing is really hard, and nobody else is acing it either

Look, we live in the only industrialized nation without mandated parental leave. Our public school calendars are calibrated for an agrarian society where children worked in the fields. Preschool and toddler care are astronomically expensive (my monthly bill last year was higher than my mortgage payment). Let's take a deep breath and just say, It's all cray-cray.

2. Construct your village

Reach out to other parents in your child's class and grade level. If you're not there to touch base at drop-off or pick-up time, look for school social events, a Facebook group for your school, and ask your child's teacher for an email list. (For heaven's sake, please let everybody have your email address. We all need each other.)

What are the other parents doing about after school care? What about that weird 10-minute window for drop-off when there's no parking? Be open about what you need, and look for openings to offer help where you can, whether it's sharing a nugget of information or offering a standing play date. It absolutely takes a village.

3. Sign 'em up

Sit down with a glass of wine and tackle that stack of papers that came home the first week of school. Clues are hiding within. The flyer for a kung fu class where the teacher walks her students from the school to her studio. Yes! The after-school enrichment program—Animation! Knitting!

One of the biggest mistakes I've committed over the years is not hiring enough child care. No guilt. You need coverage, and your kids are going to meet some fabulous people and try some amazing new things. By the same token, don't sign them up for things you need to drive them to at 3:30 pm, unless they can carpool with a peer (remember your village).

4. Seek flex, at work and at home

Full-time work is often more than 40 hours a week, but which 40? Take a look at your work week and consider proposing small or large restructuring that might improve the situation for everyone. You're being proactive about maximizing your productivity, not caving under unbearable time pressures! Ask your partner to do the same and multiply your flex. Ask other families how they manage. Some have one full-time worker and one part-time or more flexibly arranged schedule; some have grandparents and great babysitters in their back pockets (try not to die of jealousy). If you're thinking of changing jobs, make flexibility a priority; otherwise you might find yourself spending all of that hard-earned raise on additional child care.

5. Set boundaries

Saying no is hard, but let's meditate on this: What is enough?

Even when your insides are squirming with the desire to please everyone, you'll need to find your backbone. It's okay to fake it 'til you make it. Portray confidence as best you can and eventually you start to feel it.

Set the timer on your phone to go off 15 minutes before you have to leave work to pick up the kids, whatever time that is, and a second alarm when you really have to go. When the first one goes off, it's time to wrap things up. I use about five minutes to finish my train of thought and jot down notes for the next day, because I know that standing in the doorway of my supervisor's office can eat up the other ten. When that second alarm goes off, and she hears it, she knows what it means, and we both shrug. Gotta go!

Likewise, you don't have to make cupcakes for the bake sale. Schools have endless needs, but look for your niche. Choose one way to contribute, whether it's an evening of employing your design know-how on the PTO calendar, or attending once-a-month committee meetings, or just sending in money instead of hawking wrapping paper. (Bulletin: You don't have to sell wrapping paper to your colleagues.) Then let go of guilt, you're pitching in where you can.

6. Master the calendars

Spend an evening figuring out how to share calendars with people in Google Calendar or whatever program you use. If you're the person who takes the kids to soccer, but he's picking them up, you both need the sports schedule in your phones. Don't worry, you can control permissions so the folks at work can't see that you're at the podiatrist, they just see that you're busy. Add school closures, ballet recitals, music lessons.

Whether you use a paper calendar (like this one) or an electronic one, keep it consistent, keep it handy, and share the info with your partner and other caregivers. Evening check-ins with my partner have become a part of our routine; we both look at our calendars and tasks for the next day and make sure we're covered with pickups, drop-offs, permission slips, and the like.

7. Communicate often

When you're working, it's hard to get face time with your child's teacher. Don't feel bad, thank God for email and then use it. Most times it's easier to describe your kid's spelling foibles when she's not standing right there rooting through your purse for snacks. Make any requests clear and direct, and always thank them for their time, since answering emails often happens above and beyond their school days. If your child's teacher doesn't use email, send notes to the teacher using your kid's school folder or however he brings home school paperwork. For best results, use a sealed, labeled envelope.

8. Opt for easy

Cooking, bill-paying, house-cleaning, laundry, lawn care, how many of these things can you afford to outsource? Anything you can't hire out, demote it down the priorities list, then designate one person in your household who's responsible for it.

A playground conversation with another working mom contributed this “aha" moment when she said that now that her husband was in charge of all laundry, there was no discussing the laundry. It was his turf, end of story. She had taken complete management of the kitchen. Each partner gave the other their full confidence to handle their chores as they saw fit. Who takes out the trash? Who walks the dog? Talk these out with your partner, and try to relax your standards on these fronts too. I won't even tell you how long it's been since I mopped my kitchen floor.

9. Plan meals and shop once a week

This seems like it's going to be a pain in the ass. And the first three times you do it, it's totally a pain in the ass. After that, it's life-altering. All kinds of resources are popping up to help families with the perennial problem of walking in the door every evening with growling bellies and no idea what to cook. Some of my favorites are the meal-planning section of The Kitchn, the drag-and-drop meal planner from Cooking Light, and (yes, another parent taught me) Cookin' with Google, a custom search that lets you type in ingredients from your fridge and get recipes that use them.

Most Saturdays I construct my weekly plan with a mix of things that need used up before they rot, things I personally want to eat, and things I can make really quickly, taking the week's activities into account. This means that grocery shopping happens just once a week, and that saves me time and money. You can read more of my evangelizing about meal-planning here.

10. Make time for yourself

You're rolling your eyes at me right now, and I don't blame you. It sounds completely impossible. Periodically it gets that way for me too, and I have to steer myself back to self-care. I once took a night class on self-care, and just going to it once a week was fantastic. I want my kids to see me happy, and to know what I care about beyond my breakfast cereal preferences.

My husband is a musician and plays music one night a week. That night is sacred. I put the kids to bed, he picks up his guitar at a friend's house and for a few hours gets to nurture that thing he loved in the BC era (before children, before jobs became careers).

Even if you're sure you're too tired to leave the house, drag yourself to the closest cafe for a couple of hours, or take a walk, preferably with a friend who can laugh with you about all the ridiculous parts. Wherever you begin is a good place to begin.

11. Work to change it

Alongside all this flexing and stretching and talking about how mind-bendingly hard it all is, let's work on making it better, for everyone. When I rage about being squeezed from every angle, it helps to put some of that energy into advocating for change on a policy level. What would make it work better?

Organizations like Moms Rising focus on legislation for paid parental leave and paid sick leave on the state and federal levels. Apps like 5 calls make it easy to contact legislators, even if all you have is five minutes in the parking lot. Look for candidates in your own backyard who talk about the importance of family-friendly policies. Yep, most times these are going to be women.

In your own workplace, support flexible work policies and those who are using them, and work to create a culture where people can be vocal about their family needs without recrimination. Let's all make it better than we found it.

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Whether you're filling out your own registry or shopping for a soon-to-be-mama in your life, it can be hard to narrow down what exactly new moms need (versus what will just end up cluttering the nursery). That's why we paired up with the baby gear experts at Pottery Barn Kids to create a registry guide featuring everything from the gear you'll use over and over to the perfect gifts under $50.

Check out the picks below, and happy shopping (and registering)!

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These five gift ideas are designed to make #momlife easier while solving some of the most common parenting dilemmas.

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One of the first things you learn when you become a mom? Those infant car seats are heavy. Which is what makes the Doona All-In-One Infant Car Seat/Stroller so genius. It's the world's first completely integrated mobility solution, quickly transforming from safe car seat to functional stroller without any extra parts. Simply pop out the wheels, pull up the handle bar, and you're ready to roll.

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GIFTS THAT CAN BE PERSONALIZED

Even the most utilitarian gift feels a little more special with some personalization. Here are some of our favorite options that can be customized with baby's name or monogram.

1. Nursery Blankets

You'll never forget the blanket you bring your newborn home in. And with Pottery Barn Kids' assortment of blankets, there's a wrap to suit every new mama's style. Choose from fuzzy neutral patterns or stylish printed options, and add baby's name for an extra personal touch.

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A convertible crib is an investment in years of sweet dreams. We love this mid-century-style option made from sustainably sourced wood with child-safe, water-based finishes. When your baby outgrows their crib (sniff!), it easily converts into a toddler bed with the matching conversion kit.

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Learn more and explore all Pottery Barn Kids' registry must-haves here.

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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They say there's no use in crying over it, but for pumping mamas, spilled milk is a major upset.

When you're working so hard to make sure your baby has breast milk, you don't want to lose a drop, and Chrissy Teigen knows this all too well.

The mom of two posted a video to social media Wednesday showing her efforts to rescue breastmilk from a tabletop. She used various utensils and a syringe to try to get the milk back in the bottle.

"I spilled my breastmilk and this is how important it is in this house," she says while suctioning up milk with what appears to be a baster.

In a follow-up video Teigen continues to try to rescue the spilled milk.

"We're trying," she says as she suctions up a drop or two. "I got some."

Teigen is currently breastfeeding baby Miles, her son with husband John Legend, and has been very public about the fact that she pumps a lot as a working mom.

She's also been open about the fact that milk supply has always been an issue for her, not just with Miles but with Luna, too.

"I actually loved [pumping] because I'm a collector of things, and so when I found out I could pump I [did it] so much because I knew the more you pumped, the more milk you'd make," she told POPSUGAR back in March. "So I loved collecting my breast milk and seeing how much I could get, even if it was very, very little."

Like a lot of moms, Teigen did struggle emotionally when a pump session wouldn't get her the ounces she wanted.

"I wasn't producing a lot of milk, and it was frustrating. When you're frustrated, [it can also make you] not produce that much."

Research backs her up. Stress has been linked to lower milk production. Because of that, she's trying to stay positive this time around, but captioned her video post "EVERY DROP COUNTS IN THIS HOUSE" because, well, they do.


So many mothers can relate. Have you ever tried to save your breastmilk?

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What is it about networking that's just kind of...awful? Typically inconvenient and often awkward, formal networking events rarely yield the results most women (and especially mamas) are looking for.

Whether you're reentering the workforce post-baby leave or simply looking to make a complicated career switch as a busy mom (or just struggling to juggle play dates and professional meetings), making the right connections is often a hurdle that's difficult to surmount. And more and more often, networking comes up short in providing what moms really need.

When time is truly at a premium—a session swapping business cards can be hard to prioritize. Shapr wants to change all that.

Designed with busy people in mind, Shapr is an app with an algorithm that uses tagged interests, location, and professional experience to match you with 10-15 inspiring professional connections a day. You swipe to indicate interest in networking with any of them, and if the interest is mutual, you're connected. (But don't worry, that's where the similarities to that dating app end.)

It makes it easier to connect with the right people.

From there, you can chat, video conference, and even meet in person with potential mentors, partners, and investors while growing your real-life network. No more wasting hours trying to pick someone's brain only to discover they don't have the right experience you need. And no more awkward, stilted small talk—even suggests a few preset icebreakers to help get the conversation rolling more quickly.

The best part? You could do virtually all your connecting from your couch post-bedtime.

It simplifies switching careers or industries.

Sysamone Phaphone is a real mom who was fed up with traditional networking options. When she quit her full-time job in healthcare to pursue founding a startup, she quickly realized that in-person networking events weren't only failing to connect her to the right people, they were also difficult for a single mom of two to even attend. "I was complaining to a friend that I was so tired and didn't know how I was going to keep doing it this way when she recommended the Shapr app," Phaphone says. "I tried it right there at dinner and started swiping. [Later], in my pajamas, I got my first connection."

From there, Phaphone was hooked. Her network suddenly exploded with developers, potential partners she could work with, and even people to hire for the roles she needed. She was also able to connect with and empower other women in tech. Now, checking in with Shapr connections is just part of her routine. "I look for connections after drop-off at school and on my commute into the city," she says. "Then after bedtime is done, I go on to check if there is anyone I've connected with."

It helps you find a mentor—no matter where they live.

Another common roadblock Shapr removes? Location. While you probably wouldn't fly to LA from New York for a networking event, the Shapr app lets you connect and chat with the person who best meets your needs—regardless of where they're based. Even better for parents, the "mom penalty" many women contend with when trying to get back into the workforce doesn't exist on Shapr—if you have the right experience, the connections will still come.

To connect, simply create your account, enter up to ten hashtags you want to follow (either industry related like #film or #tech or by person you're seeking, such as #developer or #uxui), preset what you're looking for (investors, collaborators, etc.), and indicate how you prefer to meet. To connect with more people at once, Shapr also has community groups within the app around interest topics that you can join. And even though the connection begins in the digital space, it often results in the in-person experiences mamas crave.

"I wish I could encourage more moms and dads to use it because it has been a lifesaver for me," Phaphone says. "It empowered my career and career choices, and it provides so much convenience. I can put my kids to bed and not go to an event, but still meet 20 people in a night."

For women looking to grow their business, position, or simply achieve a little self-growth, Shapr is changing the way we connect. This powerful new app could change everything, mama. Download it today to get started.

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